Cameron Criticized for Promise Not to Seek Third Term

Many are puzzled by the Conservative Party leader’s pledge not to seek a third term.

British prime minister David Cameron meets Royal Marines participating in a march around London, November 8, 2014
British prime minister David Cameron meets Royal Marines participating in a march around London, November 8, 2014 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Arron Hoare)

British prime minister David Cameron told the BBC in an interview that was broadcast on Monday he would not seek a third term if he is reelected in May. “I’ve said I’ll stand for a full second term but I think after that it will be time for new leadership,” he said.

The Conservative Party leader immediately named three potential successors: London mayor Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Theresa May and Chancellor George Osborne. All three have “plenty of talent, he said. “I’m surrounded by very good people.”

The reaction from the opposition Labour Party and many in the media was severe.

Jason Beattie, the Daily Mirror‘s political editor, reported a Labour source saying it was “arrogant” of the prime minister to start speculating about his prospects for a third term before voters had the chance to deliver a verdict on his first.

Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary who is coordinating Labour’s election campaign, said, “In the United Kingdom it is for the British people and not the prime minister to decide who stays in power.”

The News Statesman similarly criticized the Conservative leader for “taking the voters for granted.” The left-leaning magazine’s political editor, George Eaton, called Cameron’s pledge “one of the biggest strategic errors of his premiership.”

Steve Richards, a columnist for The Independent and a BBC presenter, tweeted that he was surprised Cameron made the same mistake as his Labour predecessor, Tony Blair. “Blair lost authority from the moment he uttered the words” he wouldn’t seek a fourth term.

Michael Savage, The Times‘s chief political correspondent, similarly wondered, “what was Cameron thinking? He’s fired the Tory leadership starting gun into his foot.”

The BBC’s James Landale, who conducted the interview with Cameron, suggested his aim “was to get across the message that he would serve a full second term.”

He wants to quash speculation that he might stand down early in 2017 after a referendum on the United Kingdom’s EU membership.

Cameron promised to hold the referendum under pressure from Euroskeptics in his Conservative Party and in a bid to outflank the United Kingdom Independence Party which advocates an exit from the European Union altogether. If the referendum doesn’t produce a vote for staying in though, despite changes in Britain’s relations with the rest of the bloc Cameron hopes to negotiate, it could be a fatal blow to a prime minister who is considered too centrist by rightwingers anyway.

Landale recognized that Cameron had potentially opened a Pandora’s Box.

He has invited Westminster and the country to contemplate a time when he is no longer prime minister and that is a dangerous gamble to make so close to an election.

May2015 has the Conservatives only a few seats ahead of Labour in the polls. Neither of the two major parties looks likely to win an outright majority.

By even talking about his departure, “Cameron has made himself sound weak,” writes The Spectator‘s Fraser Nelson, “at a time when his party is selling itself on strong leadership. It’s an odd decision and I fear it’s one which makes the nightmare of Ed Miliband government a tiny bit more likely.”